Bach: Complete Organ Works - Kooiman, Gremmel-Geuchen, Gnann, Klapprott

Bach: Complete Organ Works - Kooiman, Gremmel-Geuchen, Gnann, Klapprott

Aeolus  AE-10761 (19 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental

Bach: Complete works for organ

Ewald Kooiman, Ute Gremmel-Geuchen, Gerhard Gnann & Bernhard Klapprott

on the organs of

Marmoutier, Abbatiale St. Etienne
Ebersmunster, Abbatiale Saint-Maurice
Strasbourg, Eglise Saint-Thomas
Wasselonne, Temple Protestant
Soultz-Haut-Rhin, Eglise Saint-Maurice
Arlesheim, Dom
Bouxwiller, Temple Protestant
Villingen, Benediktinerkirche

This is the first complete Johann Sebastian Bach Organ Edition on Super Audio CD available in surround sound and played on famous historic organs on a label which is famous for it’s experience with organ recordings. In the same time it is a very precious and detailed documentation of the Silbermann organ tradition in the Alsace and includes the most beautiful and important instruments of this organ builder dynasty.

It was in April 2008 at the Abbatiale St.Maurice at Ebersmunster (Alsace) that I started working on Aeolus’ biggest recording project so far: the complete organ music by Johann Sebastian Bach with the dutch organist Ewald Kooiman for an ambitious SACD Edition with a total of 19 Super Audio CDs (compatible with any CD-Player). For this edition Aeolus and Ewald Kooiman chose the famous alsatian organs built by Andreas Silbermann (1678-1734) and his son Johann Andreas Silbermann (1712-1783).

Tragically Ewald Kooiman died totally unexpectedly during his holidays in Egypt on January 25, 2009, at the age of 70, after having recorded only eight SACDs. We have been discussing whether it would make sense to release these eight recordings as a kind of musical testament. On the other hand there were so many important organs works that had not yet been recorded by Ewald Kooiman. Finally I contacted three of his former students and asked them if they would like to complete this edition as a homage to their teacher: Ute Gremmel-Geuchen (Kempen), Gerhard Gnann (Mainz) and Bernhard Klapprott (Weimar). They were all enthusiastic about the idea and immediately agreed. These recordings started in 2010 and were finally finished in July 2011.

All the recordings have been realized simultaneously in two channel stereo and in five channel surround sound with state of the art equipment using the famous DPA 4006 microphones all over.

The booklet texts have been written by the German musicologist Peter Wollny (Bach-Archiv Leipzig) and by the alsatian Silbermann expert Marc Schaefer (on the instruments).

Comment by producer Christoph Martin Frommen:

"I feel immensely honored to have had the unique opportunity to realize this great project and to have spent five years with the music of J.S. Bach. I extend my warmest thanks to all those who have supported me and without whose help it would not have been possible to make it happen, especially to Mr. Anne den Hartigh."

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Works (243)
Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - July 17, 2013

Listening to all of J.S. Bach's organ works over a relatively short time is one of the most intense experiences in the whole of music; something like going on a journey of pilgrimage. It can now be done in one's own home, thanks to the artistry of the great organists and technical skills of recording engineers - and of course the not inconsiderable financial outlay for record companies.

The German company Aeolus has gone further, and offers the first Complete Bach Works in high resolution surround sound as well as stereo. It comprises 19 SA-CDs, each disc carrying over 70' and up to 81' of music. The discs come in cardboard sleeves with handsome photographs of the appropriate organs on the front and a track list on the back. These fit into a stout card box with an upwards slide off sleeve lid, together with a chunky booklet in German, English and French (of which more later).

The Aeolus producer and artistic director, Christoph Martin Frommen, writes a brief Editorial explaining how he and Ewald Kooiman (Dutch organist of world renown and Bach specialist) met in April 2008 to start working on the long-planned project. This was to be no less than Kooiman's third complete Bach Edition recording. They chose well-preserved organs by Andreas Silbermann (1678-1716) and his son Johann Andreas Silbermann (1712-1783) from Alsace (a tiny region of France up against the German border, which has suffered centuries of dispute between the two countries). Silbermann organs were celebrated in Bach's time for their distinctive sound, with reedy 16' Posaune ranks in the Pedal register (Silbermann eschewed 32' pipes) and the silvery quality of the flutes. Playing on their name, organists called the organs "Silberklang" (Silvery Sounds). This special sound was achieved by having more than usual tin in the alloy of their organ pipes, bringing out high harmonics.

J.S. Bach, known best during his lifetime as an organist and formidable organ-tester, was well acquainted with the famous organs of Gottfried Silbermann, Andrea's brother, and he generally approved them, although he was less than happy that they had mixtures which were "all too weak" compared with the Thuringian organs, adding that Gottfried was also averse to new stops. The workshops of Andreas and Johann, absorbing much French influence, seems to have striven to overcome such shortcomings. It was an inspired idea of Aeolus to settle on the group of Alsatian organs, which have so far been little recorded. Eight Silbermann organs were used, in buildings ranging from abbeys and parish churches to a Dom (cathedral).

Tragedy struck the project in January 2009 when Kooiman died suddenly while on holiday in Egypt. Only about 40% of the works were "in the can", constituting 8 SA-CDs. Deciding not to simply abandon the project and publish the partial set, Frommen suggested to three of Kooiman's previous students that they could finish the schedule and dedicate it to Kooiman's memory. Ute Gremmel-Geuchen (5 SA-CDs), Gerhard Gnann (4 SA-CDs) and Bernhard Klapprott (2 SA-CDs) are each organists with international reputations and are also teachers and recitalists in their own right, with recordings already to their credit. Their performances are excellent and fully committed, and they are clearly still using many elements of Kooiman's distinctive Baroque style. He always warned his students about "Stylus Locomotivus", which he used to describe the heavily mechanical approach to interpretation of Bach on the organ. There is no laboured playing in this set.

The performances captured for this boxed set in fact vary from excellent to outstanding, each disc making for compelling listening. The shortest, simplest pieces get performances as carefully expressed and thought out as do the great free Preludes and Fugues. Kooiman's discs in particular are graced with a feeling of freedom and spontaneity born from a life-time of playing Bach and a sure technique of handling various manuals, pedal boards, stops and making decisions on registrations which constitute the art of great.organ playing. Music-making with organs is so much more than merely playing on keyboards. In particular I was enchanted by the often inspired registrations drawn from these organs; there are some gorgeous solo stops, some, especially pedal voices, are very soft and subtle, others pert, playful and amusing. Still more evoke the pre-Baroque age with raucous, buzzy sounds from imitations of late Renaissance instruments.

Frommen and his team have gone to great lengths to make this marathon disc issue as listener-friendly as possible. This set does not use the standard classical record preferred "list order" method of programming, i.e. devoting a disc or more to all the trio-sonatas, each of the various Organ Books of Bach and collections of chorale preludes or concertos. Instead, Aeolus present each disc as a self-contained and well-planned recital programme. Thus some of the stand-alone works might top and tail a group of chorale preludes extracted from, say, the Neumeister Collection, so there is plenty of variety in pace, expression and colourful use of each organ's resources. Generally, each SA-CD features a single organ, but there are one or two with "mixtures", suggesting that the whole huge set of Bach's works have been organised with great care, matching piece to organ.

A significant element of this organisation is manifest in the booklet of some 251 pages in the three languages mentioned above. It begins with a detailed track listing of the 19 SA-CDs, followed by the aforementioned Editorial introduction. The bulk of the texts is a very handy essay by scholar Peter Wollney, which comments on the music and its context, roughly in the order of the BWV catalogue numbers, so it is fairly easy to locate the piece one is listening to. This very readable account also briefly considers those disputed works which still remain in the usual JSB Canon, until often warring scholars find some more concrete evidence of their true provenance. Following this very useful and up-to-date commentary is a print version of a lecture by Christoph Wolff on the importance of the organ to JSB at various stages of his life, presented at the 2010 International Organ Festival Haarlem as part of a concert in memory of Ewald Kooimann.

Next come brief biographies of the performers, then summaries of the histories of the eight Silbermann organs and their settings. These are followed logically by listing the specifications of each organ (it would have been impossible space-wise to add registrations for each piece as is often done for individual albums). Then there is an invaluable index, listing the BWV catalogue for all the pieces present, with a list of titles, durations, disc volume numbers and track numbers for each. Locating a particular work in the set is thus very easy. The booklet is rounded off with a set of coloured photos of the performers and organs. The whole thing is very well designed, with clear layout and reasonably readable typography.

As for the sonics, I could simply say that the sound is consistently superb and leave it at that.. Aeolus have a stock of the legendary Danish DPA 4006 omnidirectional microphones, which are deployed in two arrays. According to Aeolus producer and recording engineer Christoph Frommen, “For our recordings we use two completely independent setups: one surround setup with five discrete channels, and an additional two-channel stereo setup. We sometimes use two or four more channels for capturing additional ambiance."

The surround array was configured in the 'Polyhymnia pentagon', which reflecting the proportions of the surround pentagon defined for loudspeaker installation, while an AB setup was used for the stereo recording.

Both stereo and multichannel tracks offer remarkably clear, transparent and detailed sound, with a fairly wide sound stage, so that individual pipe ranks are easily located. With 5.0 multichannel in particular, the organ's effect on the building acoustics is thrillingly conveyed, reminding us that one of the Silbermann "secrets" was careful voicing of each pipe and calculated positioning of ranks so as to make the most of the building's acoustic input to the overall sound of each organ.

My Bach journey with Aeolus, so well navigated by the set's thoughtful guidance, has been a joyful one indeed. Now I will be able to dip into the individual albums at will to relish them further. Although the initial outlay on this set, despite its reasonable pricing, is relatively high, I can assure potential buyers that this is a sound investment (no pun intended), lovingly put together and executed. It is also a fit memorial for Ewald Kooiman, to whom it is dedicated.

For a "small" record company like Aeolus, this was an ambitious project indeed, and despite a potential calamity they have produced a musical marathon which will not easily be surpassed. It has already won a German Record Critics' Award ("Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik"). Its importance to the list of essential Bach and essential organ recordings is manifest, bringing C21st scholarship, performance practices and recording technology together in an inimitable way. Well done, Aeolus!

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and


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